EAGAN, Minn. — There have been numerous times this season and beyond when Kirk Cousins and Drew Brees have looked automatic.
That shouldn’t be confused with being on autopilot.
Cousins has completed a league-leading 210 passes and ranks third in the NFL with 2,162 yards.
Brees is on pace to demolish his own record for completion percentage (he’s at 77.3 percent heading into Week 8) and is leading the NFL with a passer rating of 121.6.
Vikings Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo was hypothetically asked how he’d spend his time if he was the Saints quarterbacks coach. The question was whether or not the focus would be continuing to work with Brees or focusing on the younger quarterbacks former Viking Teddy Bridgewater and Taysom Hill.
DeFilippo explained he believes Brees is a player who wants to continue refining, and he’s learned that Cousins is the same way.
“Here’s what I found out about all great players, and obviously Drew Brees is a great player,” DeFilippo said. “All great players strive to get better every day, and great players are coachable. I’ll never forget the story, I’m a big Bill Walsh guy. I’ve read all of Coach Walsh’s books, and he tells a story in one of his books about, I think it was Joe Montana’s 12th year in San Francisco, and he’s describing 22-Hank, which is the number one play in the old school West Coast offense. Everyone still has a form of it in their offense.
“There was Joe Montana in the front row taking two pages of notes on that play,” DeFilippo added. “It’s like his 12th year with the Niners. Usually great players have that stuff in common where they just love football, dive into it. I think to me, and I don’t want to speak for Drew or for anybody, but I would assume that Drew, being the great player that he is, is always looking to get better every day.
The natural follow-up question was, is Cousins the same way?
“Absolutely and very coachable,” DeFilippo said. “[He] was really open to new ideas when he came here. [He] had been in Washington and had success in Washington doing things a different way.
“He was always, ‘Hey, if there’s a better way to do something, whether it be my footwork, whether it be my arm placement, whatever, cadence, all those things,’ [let me know]. He was really open to new ideas, and he’s really bought in and done a nice job.”
Here are other topics addressed by DeFilippo, Defensive Coordinator George Edwards and Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer:
DeFilippo on improvements in run game
When the Vikings traveled to Philadelphia in Week 5, the Eagles entered the game ranked No. 1 in the league in run defense, allowing 63.8 yards per game.
Minnesota was able to rush for 77 yards and reaped multiple benefits from the production.
A week later, the Vikings capitalized on a Cardinals defense at the bottom of the NFL in rushing yards allowed and totaled 195 against Arizona. Last week, the Vikings rushed for 88 yards against the Jets, although 38 occurred on one touchdown by Latavius Murray.
Now, the Vikings are preparing to face a Saints defense that is the new leader in rushing yards allowed. New Orleans is allowing 72.3 per game.
DeFilippo was asked about the recent uptick in the run game.
“I am an ‘It is what it is’ guy. At the same time, I think if you’re a realist, I think that new offensive coordinators, new quarterback, a little bit of new scheme, from a pass game standpoint, obviously we’ve had a revolving door up front, I think there are a lot of factors involved.
“With that being said, are we looking to improve each week on running the football and our whole offensive operation? 100 percent,” DeFilippo said. “But at the same time, I think you are starting to see the guys settling into their roles. I think you are starting to see myself really start to understand what guys do well. That takes time. No one wants to hear that, but it kind of is what it is. I give our guys a lot of credit for taking the approach of getting better each week.
Edwards on preparing for a quarterback vs. preparing for a scheme
The Vikings are no strangers to preparing for Brees and the Saints.
Head Coach Mike Zimmer worked with Saints Head Coach Sean Payton for three seasons in Dallas, and this will be the third meeting between the teams since September 2014.
Edwards said preparations include knowing what a quarterback can do and wants to do, as well as figuring out the best ways to deny those wishes.
“You kind of have to know the skill set of the quarterback that you’re playing against,” Edwards said, “especially when you’re talking about rushing him and how you need to make sure you’re smart with your rush lanes, if you’re going to pressure him, what you need to do as far as pressures to make sure you keep him in the pocket. Each week varies on the skill set of the quarterback that we’re facing, how much they run and those types of deals.”
Edwards on cornerbacks’ approach
Some describe quarterbacks as “picking on” cornerbacks, but the role of those defenders is better defined by what the receivers are doing.
“Most of the things we ask them to do in coverage is based off of what the receivers are doing off their routes, off their stem, different things like that that we see coming into the game,” Edwards said. “From that aspect of it, a lot of things that we do in coverage, you just got to know what we’re asking them to do systematically, whether they’re playing cloud or whether they’re playing man or whether they’ve got help or don’t have help.”
Priefer on preparing for fakes
Priefer said Payton has no qualms about implementing a fake on special teams and Zimmer is “pretty aggressive that way, too.”
“At times, we’ve called them this year, and we’ve gotten out of them because we didn’t like the look,” Priefer said. “I think Coach Zimmer is a guy that is aggressive that way, as well, and tries to keep people off balance. He’s always asking me to have things prepared, and we do. We are always going to have those types of things prepared in case the situation arises.
“[Former Rams Head Coach Jeff] Fisher was really big on that. He did stuff all the time,” Priefer said. “Every time we played him, we knew something was coming. I think that has carried over with [Special Teams Coordinator John Fassel], like we stopped that fake against the Rams earlier this year. Our guys did a great job of doing that. Those types of coaches are difficult to prepare for. You have to be on your toes, and fourth-and-3 is not a normal fourth-and-3. Fourth-and-3 could be a fake, so you have to prepare for all of those things.”
Priefer on Wile’s punting at New York
Matt Wile punted eight times for 382 yards, for an average of 47.8 yards per punt. He and the coverage team netted 46.8 yards per punt and were able to down four punts inside the 20.
Wile’s long against the Jets was 66 yards, giving him four of 60-plus this season, which includes a career-long of 70 in Week 3.
Priefer said Wile’s day was the best “since he’s been here” and “probably” the tops in his career. He said Wile and Vikings specialists did a good job of handling tough wind conditions.
“It started in the week of practice, because we had a lot of wind; if you guys remember during the week last week, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday it was really windy,” Priefer said. “He and Dan [Bailey] and Kevin [McDermott], and the returners for that matter, did a great job of getting some work in the windy conditions. I think it gave him a lot of confidence.
“Sunday morning we go out there, and it was crazy, you saw the goal posts and you saw the flags on the goal posts in the wind, if you guys were down there at field level at all before the game, it was extremely windy and gusting and not very predictable,” Priefer added. “Both guys, and the returners for that matter, had great pregames, and it got them ready for the ball game, so it was good.”